Julia Ann Hulick Nerson Story
The idea for this story came to me when I was working on a research project involving some of our local historic sites. For the first time in many years, I opened up the fat folder containing all the old documents and papers that I used in proving my line of descent from my Revolutionary War patriot, Major Robert Nixon of New Jersey, whose line was a new one for DAR. His granddaughter, Julia Ann Hulick Nerson, was my great-great grandmother. My family still owns the property where she lived, and where the Battle of Irish Bend, also known as the Battle of Nerson’s Woods, was fought. I went to the Young-Sanders Center for the Study of the War Between the States in Louisiana to get more information. I also went back to the property, which is now cane fields and woods. There I was able to find the remains of the foundation of the old Nerson home, and to view several ancient oaks, bending over toward the bayou, which were certainly growing there when Julia Ann lived. I decided to tell the story as though I were Julia Ann in her last days, how she might have felt, what she might have thought. She lived her last days during one of the darkest hours in American history, and yet the country has survived and thrived.
“My Life” by Julia Ann Hulick Nerson
By Lana Downing
Being sound of mind, but weary in spirit and in body, in this the sixtieth year of my life, 1866, and the ninetieth year of the Independence of our beloved, war-battered country, I have decided to set down a brief history of my life as well and truthfully as I can remember it.
We have in recent times been subjected to a War which pitted cousin against cousin, nephew against uncle, brother against brother. The horror is more real to me because it was brought to the very place that I call home, where the blood of the Battle of Nerson’s Woods seeped into the ground which my husband tills. My heart is heavily burdened, and I feel I must write down my thoughts before I lay my head upon its final pillow, to arise no more, but to sleep eternally in the churchyard.
I was born in the Ohio Territory, Dearborn County, Indiana, on the thirthieth day of November in the Year of Our Lord 1806. My parents and my older siblings had come to Dearborn County in 1802, as the Ohio Territory was opening up to settlement. What a terrible removal and how brave my parents were to leave hearth and family in New Jersey, to set out for the West. But my father, Barnet Hulick, was an adventurous man, having served as a sergeant under our first President, General Washington, in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion in the year 1791.
Upon arriving in the Ohio Territory, my father received a land grant of 640 acres, and set about farming and building his family a home. He became a judge and served honorably as a captain in the county militia. By July of 1809, wanderlust again struck my father, as the Louisiana Purchase had opened up yet more vast lands of richness and promise. My father determined that the needs of his growing family might best be met by removing them to Louisiana, to St. Mary Parish in the Attakapas. They divested themselves of their Ohio properties and set out on a keel boat, floating down the Ohio River into the vast Mississippi and on down through the bayous. I have no memory of this trip, being a child of two or three years at the time, but it was much remembered around the fire in the evenings at the tavern, which my father owned and operated in what is now Franklin, Louisiana.
Making this difficult trip on the flat, ill-protected watercraft were my parents, my older sisters Rachel, Eliza, and Caroline, and my younger sister, Mary Vance. My mother’s younger brother and sister, Jedediah Davison Nixon and Abigail Ann Nixon, and also Elizabeth Hulick, younger sister to my father, braved the elements and the vagaries of chance to join us in our adventure. Also along on this trip were what livestock and fowl they could carry, together with the rudiments for a household. The older children were assigned the task of protecting me and my younger sister, which was a great job indeed, on a low-sided boat surrounded by deep, churning water.
We made that trip successfully, and by the year 1809, my resourceful father had set up business operating a tavern and a ferry across the Bayou Teche. This is when my earliest memories begin. All of the life that I remember is entwined with the slow-moving waters of the Teche. I have lived upon its banks every day I have drawn breath.
Having spent their early years in the Ohio Territory, my older sisters were much afraid of the swampy land we had claimed as our new home. They ran screaming from water snakes and small alligators, while I relished playing with them and found them interesting and not the least whit frightening. As soon as I was old enough, I began to fish in the bayou with a cane pole, often bringing in my catch for the cook at the tavern to prepare. The tavern was an ever-changing source of entertainment, with new guests arriving as the old guests were departing, a veritable parade of interesting people.
But life was not to remain so for our happy family. When I was seven years old, my dear mother departed this earth to gain her heavenly reward, leaving us sorely distressed. A few short years later, when I was ten, my dear father was also taken from us. We were a family of orphan children, dependant upon the charity of family and friends for our existence. Uncle Jedediah Nixon and his dear wife welcomed the younger ones into their home and there we remained. We had our inheritance from the sale of our father’s possessions and property, which helped defray the cost of our bed and board, and our education.
On the 26th day of October, 1825, at Camperdown Plantation, I married Henry Randolph Nerson, and removed myself from my uncle’s home to the home of my husband, located above Franklin on the Irish Bend of the Bayou Teche. There we have raised our family, our sugar cane crops, and some cattle. We were blessed by the Lord with nine beautiful babies, of whom today but four survive. The sad telling of the deaths of my children causes a pall to fall upon me, but my descendants must know that they were born, that they lived. My oldest son, Jared Isaac Nerson, died a young man of 17 years. My twin baby girls, Catherine Ann and Mary Ann, both lived but one year each. Saddest to relate, my two younger sons, Henry Barnet Nerson and Alexander Nerson, are both recently deceased while in service to the Army of the Confederacy, both without having taken a wife or made a home. It grieves me sorely to think of these beautiful sons, taken, for so little gain. These years of war have taken a great toll on me. I am in a dark valley from which I cannot cause myself to rise. I Thank God daily for my four remaining daughters.
We knew early in April of 1863 that a battle would soon ensue upon our fields as General Taylor was building fortifications. At his urging, we prepared to take refuge in Franklin. We tried as best we could to safeguard our livestock. I fixed my best hens in crates to take with me, because I could not bear to leave these poor creatures, knowing they might well make a meal for marauding Yankees. We buried our silver safely as we could under the house, afraid to travel with it for fear that vagrant soldiers might rob us. Finally, when all was ready, we got into our bateau and proceeded down the bayou to Franklin, where we remained for many weeks.
On April 14, we knew that the battle had begun, because we could hear the cannon fire like distant thunder. Volleys from the gunboat Diana added to the din. Knowing that this battle was raging on our land caused an icy hand to clasp my heart. When it was over, Henry was first to return to our home, telling me to remain in the town. We were amazed to learn that our house still stood, albeit with musket balls in the walls and in the fireplace mantel, even in the very bedstead where I bore my nine children and where I will lay my head tonight when I sleep.
My daughters and I remained in the town and tried as best we could to help with the wounded soldiers, who came in a continual stream from the battlefield that had been our cane lands, walking, riding in wagons, carried by their comrades. There were dreadful wounds, amputations without a thought given, as a foot was sawn off here, an arm there. The Yankees left behind a pile of sawn-off extremities, legs, arms, hands, feet, at the door their makeshift hospital at McKerrall’s sugarhouse. It was a dreadful time. It haunts me so. I have in my possession an engraving from the Harper’s Weekly magazine, which, if it is authentic, validates my nightmares: young men of North and South, facing one another across our muddy fields and fencerows, firing weapons to take the life one from another. Some may have been my cousins or nephews from the North that our boys were shooting to kill. It grieves me sorely.
I am haunted by the sounds of that battle. In my dreams and sometimes in my waking, especially when the fog rises over the bayou, I can see those brave young men, standing to fight and be dropped by minie ball or by cannon fire; the horses, falling upon the wounded and writhing about in pain, the smoke and stench of death. When I tread upon these fields, I can still see signs of the battle. We are ever fearful of live ammunition, of unspent cannon balls. Clearly visible is the mound over the long trench where scores of young bodies were stacked like cordwood and covered over, sons of unknown mothers in an unmarked common grave. Rains uncover brass buttons, bullets, and bones. If ever our fields are put in order to grow crops once more, they will be fed by the blood of all those fine young men, Yankee and Confederate, who died so bravely that April day. But for what? One million lives snuffed out in this great conflict, the finest specimens of young manhood of Confederacy and Union, cut down before they had begun to live. Could we not have found another way between us, North and South?
Now, the poor South is trodden into the ground. And yet, here we are, the United States of America once again, battered and bruised, but not broken. God bless America, and God bless the State of Louisiana. My dear daughters care for me and give me comfort in these, my last days on this earth.
(Signed) Julia Ann Hulick Nerson
November 30th, 1866, my sixtieth birthday
Raphael, Morris. The Battle of Irish Bend. Detroit: Harlo Press, 1975.
Raphael A Gunboat Named Diana. Detroit: Harlo Press, 1993.
Sanders, Mary Elizabeth Letters of a Southern Family. 1816-1941.
Lafayette, Louisiana: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2001.
Sanders. St. Mary Parish, Louisiana Heirship Series, Volumes I, II, and III. Gretna,
Louisiana: Pelican Press, 2002.
Various legal wills, marriage licenses, and other papers from the St. Mary Parish Courthouse, including the Last Will and Testament of Barnet Hulick, probated in 1818, and the marriage license of Julia Ann Hulick and Henry Randolph Nerson, recorded in 1825.
Oral family history from my grandmother Mary Svarrer Laws, who knew Nannie Nerson.